To some, the fact that the Red Hot Chili Peppers aren’t putting out albums akin to 1989’s Mother’s Milk and 1991’s Blood Sugar Sex Magik is evidence of their waning. The good-time boys and their dirty sex funk days are over. But there’s the fact that their last three studio releases, Californication, By the Way and Stadium Arcadium, have earned roughly 30 million in sales between them. The band seems to have traversed an extremely difficult threshold: continuing to create material as individual as their earlier efforts in the face of a changing popular aesthetic and audience.
On Friday night at the Palace, the Peppers came out of the gate with newer material, and damn, they came out hard. Guitarist John Frusciante’s Marshall stack was about to crack in two, and when the opening jam abruptly jumped into By the Way’s “Can’t Stop,” the funky-as-shit riff rang like the Peppers of old.
Though not a dominating frontman – on albums he shines mostly on tactful solo breaks – Frusciante never played the same riff twice. His style is an overt evolution from Jimi Hendrix, but tailored to his own idiom of modern funk and melodic rock. Though Stadium Arcadium was criticized in part for Frusciante’s constant shuffling of pedals and effects, his sound on Friday was straightforward, overdriven blues-rock. In no way were his select effects a stylistic crutch – the man has his own legit chops.
“Californication” and “Dani California” were supported by precise musicianship and garnered positive crowd responses, but it was almost impossible not to feel melancholy. The Stevie Wonder-penned-turned-RHCP-classic “Higher Ground” was introduced as the audience’s “Detroit song.” The response was pleasant, though no more enthusiastic than the show’s other highlights.
Frusciante and Flea kept up a wonderful dynamic throughout the show, and it could be said Kiedis appeared the most complacent of the four. But his voice has evolved much in the same fashion as Mick Jagger: into a well-honed maturity.
Flea is still the envy of modern funk bassists. The man simply lays it down with unadulterated authority.
The set ended with “By the Way” the best evidence of the Peppers’s two worlds: a pop-melodic chorus and a gravel-filled funk verse.
“Under the Bridge” segued into “Give it Away” for the encore, two seminal tracks off of their highest selling album, Blood Sugar Sex Magik. The crowd was euphoric, as the band ripped out both without an ounce of boredom or complacency. They proved that they can still kick it old school when they feel the need. Their hardline, no-school-like-the-old-school fans will just have to take what comes.